April 20, 2014

Letter #16: The Vatican’s Intelligence

The Vatican’s Intelligence: “Best in the World”?

The words of a former Swiss Guard

By Robert Moynihan, from Rome

Eating lunch today here in Rome, I had an interesting conversation with a former Swiss Guard.

He is here from Switzerland to attend the swearing-in ceremony of 34 new Swiss Guards, which will take place in the Cortile San Damaso at 5 this afternoon.

The former guard recalled that we are now at the 13th anniversary of the death of the commandant of the Swiss Guard, Alois Estermann. Estermann was shot to death in his own apartment on May 4, 1998 — 13 years and two days ago. Estermann’s wife, Gladys, who was from Venezuala, was also killed on that occasion. The double murder was attributed to a young Swiss Guard named Cedric Tornay. Tornay, whose corpse was found in the Estermann apartment, is said to have committed suicide there, a few steps inside the Santa Anna Gate, moments after the murders. The murders occurred at about 9 pm on the evening of May 4, nine hours after the noon announcement that Estermann had been named commandant of the guard after a hiatus of many months in the Guard’s leadership, during which he had been acting commandant.

We also had the chance to speak about the recent beatification of Pope John Paul II.

The former guard recalled that John Paul’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, whom I also knew, spoke nine languages fluently.

“He was an amazing intellect,” the guard said. “He spoke Spanish, German, French, so many languages. Whenever he met with diplomats from anywhere in the world, he almost always was able to speak with them directly, without any need of an interpreter.

“In fact,” he said, “the general calibre of the Vatican’s diplomatic service is extraordinarily high. I believe independent analysts have also seen and acknowledged this. You have an author on strategic affairs in America who has written that the Vatican’s intelligence is Number One in the world, even ahead of the Mossad and the CIA. From my experience, observing men like Cardinal Casaroli, I think it’s true.”